Saturday, November 12, 2005

Deconstructing a Svengali – Advertising voyeurism

In America Television is God. It is the all-pervasive omnipresence. When the people are saying their little prayer at their table a small television is on and watching them. The channels are vying the spot on their mind luring them with grand promises while doing mundane things like predicting weather. American television commercials are probably the best keyhole to peep, to conjure up an intelligent voyeuristic opinion on the country that is otherwise uninteresting. In this post I have tried to deconstruct this Uncle svengali Sam through a set of advertisements caught on a Friday from noon to evening central time.

TGI Fridays
Americans are cursed with a countrywide eating disorder. There is the morning meal with bacon eggs grease-fest plus lots of coffee, a couple of demented hi-sugar snacks, a loaded lunch with half an angus (you can hear it moo) in it with a super-size soda, then a few more snacks that range between packed candies to salted cheese fries and then there is supper with lots more things that are dead and unhealthy. They eat varied meats, an assortment of fowls, soda and sugar in bowls. TGI Fridays is an all-American institution (Does anybody know what this actually means? Can you call me?) that promotes overt consumption of a gastronomical nature. They have juicy (read bloody) steaks beautifully rendered in all its pristine glory while being cut and dipped in a sweet sauce and there is an entire family playing hooky to eat at TGI Fridays. There are more such advertisements – Papa Johns, Red Lobster, Taco Bell, Olive Garden and it goes on. They have to feed 295,734,134 people with similar disorder and I do not blame the chains. They are making their bread.

Thyrin ATC
This is a derivative of the earlier paragraph – obesity. Let me feed you with some statistics first. New statistics reveal that a startling 64.5% of American adults, or more than 120 million people, are overweight or obese. The numbers probably will mean an explosion of diabetes and heart disease cases if things don’t improve, top U.S. obesity experts say. The number of Americans who are overweight is at the highest level ever recorded. 31%, or about 59 million adults older than 20, are obese. Obese is defined as 30 or more pounds over a healthy body weight; overweight is roughly 10 to 30 pounds over a healthy weight. 33% of adult women are obese, compared with 28% of men. 50% of black women are obese compared with 40% of Mexican-American women and 30% of white women. (The survey doesn't have a category labeled Hispanics.) There is virtually no difference in obesity among men based on race. 5% of people overall are extremely obese. That's up from about 3% in the early 1990s. But 15% of black women are extremely obese. About 15% of children ages 6 to 19, or about 9 million children, are overweight.

There are equally staggering amounts of prescription-less cure for obesity for a lot of money. One such product is Thyrin aimed at the larger ladies. The advertisement is a boring set of facts with typical before and after scenarios. Thyrin cures - as the tagline suggests - ‘weightloss plus thyroid support’. I sometimes wonder, can this be ever reversed?

Bowflex – Delivers Results
This obesity and eating disorder issues are discharging a more health and fitness oriented culture. I personally think, unhealthiness is associated with a class that the upcoming urban America does not associate itself with. This is why they need regimens of diet and fitness. Low fat, low sugar, good carb, bad carb (like in a culinary film noir whodunit), high fiber, bran, light beer, with a promise of a six pack abs and plasticky looking people who are on Red Bull to do the commercials –this is the overall scenario. Bowflex is a home gym product with pumped up men and women working out. You can get one for $19 a month and it apparently delivers results. I am happy about this. This is probably the tip of the reversal.

Coca Cola Zero
I think cola commercials have gone beyond the standard message to generic banter. It is more about recurrence and so a recall. This commercial is for a zero calorie Coke that is focused at the health conscious American. It has a man from the Coca Cola Company who claims that they have nailed it – they have discovered the Zero Calorie Coke. As he says that he wants to share the formula he gets hit in the neck by a blow dart and faints. You see an executive hiding in the next room with the dart pipe. Can anybody decipher this masterpiece from Madison Avenue? For some odd reason you do not see desis drinking Coke. I am not sure whether this is about staying healthy or saving money.

Dell Dimension
Talking about saving money Dell is whipping out deals before Thanksgiving to lure families to own a new desktop. They are cutting costs – moving more jobs to Bangalore. Dell has been a pioneer in this call center outsourcing bandwagon. The other day I called United Airlines to change my flight and my call landed on a table in Pune. I had meetings that were more pro outsourcing than before. So Dell Dimension can sell at $399 to a suburban kid playing games.

Gameboy Donkey Kong
Hip-hop is an irreverent culture that is prevalent among young adults. For the uninitiated this is about wearing clothes that are a few sizes larger, showing underwear that include boxers, tshirts that look like they have been vandalized, jargons and groupie moves that others cannot understand, general demeanor of disrespect to anything other than fellow hip-hoppers. This has left quite a few parents worried. Gameboy is a mobile gaming product that promotes this culture. The commercial has a bunch of kids driving an old car with one playing a Gameboy and the car is slowly getting filled with cartoon-ish surf culture tattoo-ish florals and characters that jump out of it. Everything about this commercial including ’77 automobile is worrisome.

Mazda 6
Car advertisements have gone desi in America. Everybody is promising mileage. The fuel prices have been bad after the country got made by the three witches of the south – Katrina, Wilma and Rita. It was close to $6 a gallon at one point and America has suddenly been shaken into understanding moderation and fuel efficiency. All car companies are taking about the mileage or hybrid cars that run on electricity or ethanol. Mazda is one of those few old school car companies still talking about an exciting new car – not boring as the other sedans. The commercial has people sleeping in their cars in a typical downtown street while Mazda 6 zips past.

Geico – Different Tastes. Different Personality. Same Insurance Company
In corporate America the next best thing to compare among men after the size of manliness blessed upon thee is what you paid for your automobile insurance. I have always heard desis harp a lot about paying a brown limb for their insurance. Geico has been the most visible of the companies. This advertisement is actually for motorcycles with members of a strange looking suburban family driving different vehicles including a scooter. Ends with the proverbial 800-number that you can call.

The Cochran Firm
America knows how to sue. You can bite into a beef jerky and your teeth comes off you can sue; you can keep a coffee cup between your legs and it mars your ability to exercise other things between your legs you can very well sue; you can sue for injury, for somebody’s error, for pain and for prayers not of your belief. The Cochran Firm is a couple of legals in Dallas area who will help you with your injury claim. They advertise with these suited guys standing back to back like the Starsky and Hutch to save you from evils of injury of any kind.

There are more – upside down Christmas trees, holiday vacation plans, more food, a lot of odd beverages and snacks.

And a dumb president.
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